Alcohol: Underage Binge Drinking & the Consequences

(Editor's Note: This is the second part of a short series on the drinking age. This part incorporates the views of someone with a 20-something viewpoint. To read the first part of the series from a writer with an older generational view, please go here.)

by Suzie Raven

Prohibition was designed to decrease alcohol consumption and crime, but studies show that both increased during the 1920s and early 1930s. In 1984, the Federal Uniform Drinking Age Act created a national drinking age of 21 by allowing the federal government to withhold ten percent of highway funds from states with lower drinking ages. The 1984 legislation also intended to curb underage binge drinking.

It hasn’t worked. If raising the drinking age to 21 was truly effective in combating underage binge drinking, 1,700 college students would not die in alcohol related deaths each year. There are a multitude of sad stories, including that of Lynn "Gordie" Bailey, one of several University of Colorado pledges who was encouraged to drink four bottles of whiskey and six bottles of wine in 30 minutes on what is called “bid night” in 2004. The 18-year-old was found dead the next morning.

"The 21-year drinking age has not reduced drinking on campuses, it has probably increased it," says Middlebury College President John McCardell. "Society expects us to graduate students who have been educated to drink responsibly. But society has severely circumscribed our ability to do that."

Students cannot learn how to drink responsibly if they are told they cannot drink at all, but will still be drawn towards the allure of alcohol. For many students, going away to college means an unprecedented amount of freedom and the sense that they can engage in taboo activities without consequence.

"When you are older, it's not as cool to be drunk," a University of Colorado student told ABC News. "But when you are in school, you are so excited that your parents aren't there, that you feel you can't get into trouble and you are invincible."

The United States has one of the highest drinking ages in the world. In many European countries, it is normal for teenagers to have a glass of wine at dinner with their parents, so they learn how to drink responsibly. A study conducted in the U.K. shows that drinking does cause some problems in Britain, but “very few young people die from the direct effects of alcohol.” The hazing that too many American students such as Bailey experienced does not exist to the same degree in countries where students do not feel they have to prove themselves to their peers.

Reduce the appeal of what some see as getting away with it and you will reduce underage binge drinking. I’m not a psychologist, but this logic seems simple to me. It also seems obvious to me that since Prohibition did not work for the United States as a whole in the 1920s, it won’t work on people ages 18-21 in the 21st Century either.

(To read this series from the beginning, please go here. For other posts of a similar vein, please see "Reviving the Underaged Drinking Debate" and "Marijuana: The New Proposition.")

(The photo is by thesaint of Gillingham, U.K. via stock.xchng. The photo was discovered using everystockphoto.com.)

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